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Letís Measure What No One Teaches: PISA, NCLB, and the Shrinking Aims of Education


by David Labaree ó 2014

Background/Context: PISA has come up with an ingenious solution to the problem of how to measure student achievement across national school systems with different curricula. Instead of measuring how well students learn what they are taught in each system, it measures a set of economically useful skills that no one teaches.

Purpose: The aim is to figure out how this odd situation came about in the current global policy context.

Research Design: This paper explores PISA as one type of educational accountability system, based on how well students demonstrate mastery of particular cognitive skills, and compares it with the current state-level accountability systems in the U.S. (NCLB), which are based on how well students demonstrate mastery of the formal curriculum.

Conclusions/Recommendations: Both PISA and NCLB, I argue, are cases of how we are shrinking the aims of education. One approach focuses on mastery of skills that are relevant but not taught and the other on mastery of content that is taught but not relevant. Neither seems a sensible basis for understanding the quality of schooling or for making educational policy.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 116 Number 9, 2014, p. 1-14
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 17533, Date Accessed: 6/26/2017 6:26:39 AM

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About the Author
  • David Labaree
    Stanford University
    E-mail Author
    DAVID F. LABAREE is a professor of Education and (by courtesy) History and chair of the area committee in Social Sciences, Humanities, and Interdisciplinary Policy Studies (SHIPS) in the Stanford Graduate School of Education. He received his Ph.D. in sociology in 1983 from the University of Pennsylvania. His research focuses on the history and sociology of American education. Books include: The Making of an American High School (1988); How to Succeed in School Without Really Learning (1997); The Trouble with Ed Schools (2004); Education, Markets, and the Public Good (2006); and Someone Has to Fail (2010). He was president of the U.S. History of Education Society (2004-2005), vice president for Division F (history of education) of the American Educational Research Association (2003-06), and member of the AERA executive board (2004-06).
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